Next White House science adviser on Letterman

This segment from Letterman is from back in April, but given the word that John Holdren, former AAAS head, will be running Barack Obama's Office of Science and Technology Policy (i.e., serving as chief science adviser to the president), it's worth a replay. This is a man who will be repeatedly reminding the president that climate change is not something that can be placed on the proverbial back burner. I mean, check out his c.v.

Along with Stephen Chu as energy secretary, Obama will be getting the best advice possible on the biggest public policy challenge in history. (Carol Browner will probably turn out to be a fine energy/climate coordinator, but I'm more impressed with the scientists Obama is surrounding himself with.)

So, yes, Obama's choice of a homophobic, creationist to pray at his inauguration is disappointing, especially to those gay Americans who worked so hard to help put Obama in the White House. But I suspect it's all about winning the trust of members of Congress like Heath Shuler (my congressmen here in western North Carolina), the so-called "Blue Dog" Democrats who skeptical of the secular approach to government. If we're lucky, this kind of window dressing will be the extent of Obama's overtures to the evangelical elements.

As for me, I'm keeping my eyes on the big picture, and the selection of Chu and Holdren speak volumes about Obama's approach to that picture.

Here are an excerpt from a monster of an essay Holdren wrote for Science a few months back on national science and technology policy, which turns out be a remarkably prescient thing to write about:

Stabilizing atmospheric CO2 at 500 ppmv would be possible if global emissions from fossil-fuel combustion in 2050 could be cut in half from the mid-range business-as-usual figure of 14 billion metric tons of carbon in CO2 per year. Numerous studies of how reductions of this general magnitude might be achieved have been undertaken (59), and, notwithstanding differences in emphasis, virtually all have shown that: (i) such reductions are possible but very demanding to achieve; (ii) there is no single silver-bullet approach that can do all or even most of the job; (iii) it is essential, in terms of both feasibility of the ultimate aim and cost of achieving it, to begin reductions sooner rather than later; (iv) the quickest and cheapest available reductions will be through improving the efficiency of energy end-use in residential and commercial buildings, manufacturing, and transport, but costlier measures to reduce emissions from the energy supply system will also need to be embraced; and (v) without major improvements in technology on both the demand side and the supply side--and a major expansion of international cooperation in the development and deployment of these technologies--the world is unlikely to achieve reductions as large as required.

The improved technologies we should be pursuing, for help not only with the energy-climate challenge but also with other aspects of the energy-economy-environment dilemma, are of many kinds: improved batteries for plug-in hybrid vehicles; cheaper photovoltaic cells; improved coal-gasification technologies to make electricity and hydrogen while capturing CO2; new processes for producing hydrogen from water using solar energy; better means of hydrogen storage; cheaper, more durable, more efficient fuel cells; biofuel options that do not compete with food production or drive deforestation; advanced fission reactors with proliferation-resistant fuel cycles and increased robustness against malfunction and malfeasance; fusion; more attractive and efficient public transportation options; and a range of potential advances in materials science, biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology, and process engineering that could drastically reduce the energy and resource requirements of manufacturing and food production (60).

Also urgently needed from S&T in the energy-climate domain are improved understanding of potential tipping points related to ice-sheet disintegration and carbon release from the heating of northern soils; a greatly expanded research, development, and demonstration effort to determine the best approaches for both geologic and enhanced biologic sequestration of CO2; a serious program of research to determine whether there are "geoengineering" options (to create global cooling effects that counter the ongoing warming) that make practical sense; and wide-ranging integrated assessments of the options for adaptation (61).

Adequately addressing these and other needs in the science and engineering of the energy-environment interaction would probably require a 2- to 10-fold increase in the sum of public and private spending for energy research, development, and demonstration (ERD&D) (62). This sounds daunting, but the amounts involved are astonishingly small compared to what society spends for energy itself (63). There are signs that the private sector is ramping up its efforts in ERD&D in response to the challenge, but for reasons that have been abundantly documented (64), the public sector must also play a large role in the needed expansion. Sadly, until now there has been precious little sign of that happening, notwithstanding abundant rhetoric from political leaders about new technologies being the key to the solution (65).

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I AM A SKEPTIC. GLOBAL WARMING HAS BECOME A NEW RELIGION."--- Nobel Prize Winner for Physics, Ivar Giaever.. . . . . . . SINCE I AM NO LONGER AFFILIATED WITH ANY ORGANIZATION NO RECEIVING ANY FUNDING, I CAN SPEAK QUITE FRANKLY - AS A SCIENTIST I REMAIN SKEPTICAL." -Atmospheric Scientist Dr. Joanne Simpson, the first woman in the world to receive a PhD in meteorology and formerly of NASA who has authored more than 190 studies and has been called among the most preeminent scientists of the last 100 years. . . . . . . Warming fears are the WORST SCIENTIFIC SCANDAL IN THE HISTORY. WHEN PEOPLE COME TO KNOW WHAT THE TRUTH IS, THEY WILL FEEL DECEIVED BY SCIENCE AND SCIENTISTS." - UN IPCC Japanese Scientist Dr. Kiminori Itoh, an award-winning PhD environmental physical chemist.

By Reverend Al an… (not verified) on 19 Dec 2008 #permalink

"Climate coordinator" - hahahahahahaha. what a freakin' joke. James - please make your first attempt ever at intellectual honesty by reading the EPW report. The report notes that a certain Erich Roeckner was included in a group of scientists who are not necessarily skeptical, but have made important and noteworthy points critical of AGW. The report goes on to note that this group was *not* included in the total tally of skeptical scientists. Roeckner is quoted as saying there's a significant element of uncertainty in simulating the details of clouds by the climate models. Roeckner also indicates some of the emissions scenarios used by the IPCC to predict the future impacts of global warming are perhaps already demonstrably wrong. 2) Only one chapter, Chapter 9, of the IPCC working group one report claimed that human influence on climate is significant. People who have looked at WG1 found that there were only 53 authors of Chap 9. This chapter references a number of papers, and these papers were written by 37 of the 53 authors of Chap 9. Plus, the authors are connected with the development and use of climate models, so they are pushing an agenda (follow the money). And there are indications that some lead authors were the bosses of contributing authors from the same organization. So instead of some huge consensus of virtually every climatologist in the world, its actually a very small incestuous group with an agenda of promoting climate models. For details, see http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24315169-7583,00.html

By Hockey Stick Man (not verified) on 19 Dec 2008 #permalink

Hmm yes, the Australian. Reliable and not at all partisan source there...

Meanwhile, I'm surprised they let people like "Reverend Al and Boogaloo Hansen" and "Hockey Stick Man".

As Keith Olbermann said on November 5th 2008, Denialist trolls: "You don't matter anymore!"

By Alex Deam (not verified) on 20 Dec 2008 #permalink

I meant to say (guess there are some gremlins in them wires)

Meanwhile, I'm surprised they let people like "Reverend Al and Boogaloo Hansen" and "Hockey Stick Man" out of the asylum.

By Alex Deam (not verified) on 20 Dec 2008 #permalink

Excuse me. But I dont believe we are talking about religious dogma here, as much as we are seeing examples of naked Fascism. A statement by a news anchor like Olbermann that certain people just dont matter anymore. is but one example. This dehumanizing of certain groups of people is only the first step. Next they will be putting the people who just dont matter anymore on trains and sending them to concentration labor camps, and the ovens. It is all about agreeing that a certain educated elite know what is best for the people, and giving more power to the government (not the people) so that the educated elite can do social engineering to achieve their goals. It may start with a desire to remove CO2 from the air, but it ends with millions of people dying in the labor camps and the ovens. When you hear them cry "Power to the Government!!!" you know Fascism, its a happening thing.

LONDON (AFP) Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams warned Monday that governments should not pursue dogmatic solutions to the financial crisis at the risk of the most vulnerable, saying that is what the Nazis did.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, he said Hitler's movement was based on a system of principles that "worked quite consistently once you accepted that quite a lot of people that you might have thought mattered as human beings actually didn't".